A quick return to Oaxaca

So we were back in Oaxaca. I wasn’t particularly upset about having to return here even though it was such a long journey to make from Xela. I really enjoyed the ten days we had spent here over a month ago and was happy to see some more of the city and especially to eat some more excellent Oaxacan food. I think this state has been my favourite for food (and continues to be in future destinations, stay tuned) with mole, lots of delicious meats, queso, mezcal and I can’t forget the chocolate!

We had arrived by second class bus which left us at a smaller second class terminal on the south west side of the city rather than the north where the first class is. This was actually really convenient for us as the cheap hotels were all on this side of the city. We easily found a hotel which was a few blocks from the mercado and zocalo and settled in.

Our first stop was to pick up our camera. Finally it had been fixed. With that in my hands our next course of action was to find food so we ate across the road at a local comedor. Cheap and tasty food in our stomachs we relaxed and had an early night.

We stayed two nights back in Oaxaca. Really we could have just had one but we had no idea where we would head to next so wanted a day to relax and plan. After doing some internet research we had an airbnb cabaña booked in Puerto Escondido and were ready to go out for the day.

Tom had lost his sunnies a while back and we were determined to find some in another nearby market. We couldn’t actually find any there but we pretty much found everything else you could possibly need as we explored this huge mercado. The produce looked fantastic and the food stalls smelled awesome but we showed restraint and only purchased a couple of avocados to go with our planned lunch as well as some coconut agua frescas. Locating an exit we headed back to a vendor of pollo asado or roast chicken which Tom craves every week or so. With our chook and sides in hand we headed back to our hotel to scoff down a whole roast chicken, salad, tortillas, salsa and avocado. Needless to say we didn’t need dinner.

After digesting we decided to head out into centro. That night our (really my) goal was to FINALLY have a Oaxacan hot chocolate. Priorities right? Writing this it seems like this whole day was revolving around food but we did accomplish research on our next destination as well!

Mmm hot chocolate. I look so happy!

Mmm hot chocolate. I look so happy!

Entering the Majordomo store we stopped to take in the aroma, mmmm. There was eating chocolate, a few types of drinking chocolate for making at home or to drink now as well as mole. I was in heaven. We sampled a piece of chocolate, some chocolate frio (choc milkshake) and some fresh chocolate paste which had a variety of uses in Oaxacan cuisine. Purchasing my hot choc I happily took my time with drinking it as we walked towards the zocalo.

As we were walking around the zocalo the weather decided to turn on us and we were stuck out in the rain yet again in Oaxaca. This had happened a few times on our previous visit. So we wandered some covered market stalls before running back to our hotel for our final night here. The next morning we packed up and ate a quick and tasty breakfast next door at a comedor. We had booked shuttle tickets at a nearby company which would get us to Puerto Escondido quicker and cheaper than taking a bus.

We were headed to the Oaxacan coast for some eagerly awaited beach time!

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Travelling back to Oaxaca from Guatemala

Just before midday we set off from our guesthouse in Xela with a leisurely morning behind us and heaps of time to get to the border (or so we thought). We knew the route and what methods of transport we would need so it was going to be an easy journey to make.

First off was another colectivo back to Minerva bus station where we asked around until we found the right bus. We had thought we might have been able to get just one bus all the way to Malacatan but were told we would need to change at San Marcos like we did on our initial journey to Xela five weeks previous.

Crazy and bright looking chicken buses

Crazy and bright looking chicken buses

So off we set quite relaxed with taking the chicken buses by now and feeling comfortable with only the two of us on the seat. First bus done with no worries.

In San Marcos we boarded the next bus which took about 10 minutes before departure. It was soon after we set off that our sense of haste kicked in. Of course we had no control over the speed of our travel, unless we wanted to take a taxi which would have been expensive. Making matters worse our bus was in go-slow-mode due to overheating brakes. It was around this point in the trip that it suddenly dawned on us that we would be losing an hour upon arrival into Mexico because of daylight savings which Guatemala doesn’t have. I should mention that our reason for all this talk about time was because we knew there was an overnight bus to Oaxaca which would depart at 7.15pm, and due to the aforementioned brake problem we had begun to notice the time slipping by rather rapidly.

Just to add to the stress as we climbed our way through the mountains out of San Marcos a thick fog set in and stayed with us pretty much all the way to the border. Then the fog turned into torrential rain and our bags were on the roof in the usual chicken bus fashion. Extra stress! Neither of us liked the idea of our current worldly belongings being saturated and we hadn’t noticed if a tarpaulin had been used to cover them. There was a silver lining to the rain which was that it had obviously cooled the brakes as the bus was back into go-fast-mode.

Finally we arrived in Malacatan and if we were nail biters I think we would have chewed our poor nails to the skin by now. Luckily the bags had been covered and were only a little damp. Also our bags are made of a sturdy canvas and have a little waterproofing due to this so nothing inside them was actually wet. Squishing into a colectivo with our packs on the roof again, this time without a cover but luckily the rain had eased, we were on our way to the border.

As I mentioned in my post about our journey to Guatemala (check that out here) the border crossing is really easy on foot. We had our passports stamped on the Guatemalan side after ignoring the taxi drivers and headed across the bridge and back into Mexico. The Mexican side took a little longer as we had to pay for our visas and then have our bags checked. Overall it took less than an hour and I was (finally) able to use the bathroom.

Jumping into another colectivo which would hopefully get us to the bus station in Tapachula on time we set off. Unfortunately this colectivo didn’t take the route we expected and we made it by running to the counter at the ADO bus terminal at exactly 7.15pm, just as the first boarding call was being announced, only to be told that tickets to the bus we wanted were sold out. OH NO! Time to reassess our plans.

The lady behind the counter told us that there was another bus which could take us to Juchitan near the Oaxacan coast and from there we could get another bus to Oaxaca City. Well that sounded like it would work even though it was a little annoying and a few hours extra we would now have time for dinner and get into Oaxaca around mid-afternoon instead of early morning. We decided to grab dinner across the road at the restaurant we had eaten at on our previous stay in Tapachula before boarding the bus.

The bus was annoying to say the least as we were stopped at least two, maybe three, times and woken from our sleep as armed personal checked our bus. At the second of these stops we were required to get our bags and walk though a customs building. As we had to in the airport we pushed a button which would give us green or red lights signalling if our bags would be checked. Luckily it was all green lights and we were back in the bus trying to get back to sleep.

Juchitan at 6am in the morning wasn’t my favourite destination in the world but we managed by watching a few episodes of True Detective. Soon the time had passed and we were on another bus, this time second class, to Oaxaca. We drove through some very pretty mountain scenery on the six hours it took to get to Oaxaca though the windiness of the road wasn’t making me feel the best so I mostly dozed. When we made a food stop I was really happy as we hadn’t eaten since the previous evening. A torta with egg and chorizo really hit the spot and even made me feel a little better about the roads which is usually the opposite of how my motion sickness works.

Finally we neared Oaxaca and I was very ready to get out of a moving vehicle. We had been travelling for 26 hours and were exhausted. Of course we still had to find accommodation. We had decided to not return to our previous hotel because it was a little pricey for what it was and the mosquitoes annoyed us a lot. You can read about the first time we spent in Oaxaca here; go on have a look.

I’ll be back shortly with a post on our two nights in Oaxaca. It’s just a quick visit but we enjoyed it as Oaxaca city has been one of our favourite places.

A full week in Xela (Quetzaltenango)

We arrived again in the craziness that is Minerva bus station in Xela. However, because we had experienced it before we knew where to go to get colectivos to centro. Easy-peasy. We had our new friend Claire with us as well as two other girls who were heading in the same direction. As we found out shortly literally the same direction. By chance they had booked the same guesthouse as we were returning to. So leading the way through the insane market we were feeling pretty useful with our knowledge and made it to our accommodation without any problems.

Zocalo

Zocalo

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San Pedro la Laguna for more Spanish classes

Sorry for the delay in posts. We are currently on the Oaxacan coast in Zipolite and we have discovered that internet is a little unreliable here (especially when it’s an overcast day) so I haven’t been able to do any writing. Hopefully I can remedy that over the next few days. Look forward to some posts on Xela, as well as locations on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

Furthermore I have been a very irresponsible travel blogger who hasn’t thought about the size of my photos before uploading them (rookie error). So I am now in the process of stripping out all my photos from past posts and reloading smaller sized files so I can continue showing you in photographic format all the stunning places we are visiting.


Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

After arriving by chicken bus in San Pedro la Laguna on the shore of Lake Atitlan we walked down the hill to find our school and home for the next four weeks.

Reaching the lake we were very surprised to see tourists everywhere and the familiar sounds of English spoken frequently. This was obviously a town which was very much on the tourist trail of Guatemala.

We meet our host and the owner of the school, Rene who showed us around. After settling into our room and having a much needed lie down after the bouncing bus we headed out to see what S.P had to offer.

The main streets fitted our initial impression exactly and the restaurants, bars and cafes were all targeted at tourists and came complete with English menus. After heading up to the main town and getting a little lost in the side streets we still hadn’t found any cheap local eateries and the weather was looking threatening.

Making our way back to the street running along the lake, we later learnt was called ‘Gringolandia’ for obvious reasons, the sky opened and we rushed to take shelter under a shop front. We had our jackets with us but they were no match for the torrential rain. The steep street quickly turned into sizeable, muddy river and after attempting to wait it out for about 40 minutes we gave up and ran to a nearby restaurant dodging between shops offering shelter. The restaurant was reasonably priced for being in the tourist area and the food was equally okay. We wouldn’t eat out much during our time here and barely ever in Gringolandia again.

The next day our classes started. At this school we again opted for the morning classes which stated at 8.30am. This was mainly to get us (me) out of bed for the day as we knew that otherwise we would waste the morning. This school had individual classes so we met our teachers and sat looking out over the lake in the sunshine and started learning more Spanish. The school was a large house on the hillside across the road from the lake and was four levels high so all the students had the best view while learning (or attempting to learn) to speak a new language.

Breakfast before class

Breakfast before class

I won’t go into detail of what we did each day, or even each week as we ended up staying for a month and didn’t really accomplish anything very touristy. We did however meet a lot of great people and drink a lot of beer and rum. Having a bit of a sweet tooth I like to make shandies from beer and lemonade and I introduced my teacher to this as well.

The first week we ate often at the only local comedor we managed to find. It was by far cheaper than anything we found down in the tourist part of town. At Q20 each for a huge plate of food we couldn’t go wrong. The decision was easy; either chicken or beef and included rice, salad, tortillas a massive heap of guacamole (YUM) as well as a drink. I really enjoyed the Guatemalan tortillas as they were a little thicker than the ones we had been eating in Mexico. Although Tom found them too small for adequately wrapping food in.

Chicken from our favourite (cheap) comedor

Chicken from our favourite (cheap) comedor

On the subject of food my favourite part of my school day was our tiempo de refaccion or snack break. The snack differed each day and over the course of the month we had tostada, fruit salad, banana loaf, chuchittos (similar to tamales) and steamed plantains as well as other things.

After the initial week of eating at the comedor we started shopping at the market and cooking each night. The produce was good and we always eat well when we cook for ourselves. Our main expenditure over the month was probably alcohol, mainly beer of which we would buy a Guatemalan brand called Brahva, but we did branch out and buy some rum as well.

After a week of revision our Spanish started improving and we learnt past tense and finally little future tense. This means that we now know present tense as well as four past tenses and three future tenses. That’s a lot of conjugations to remember!

Our time at the school ended up being a bit of a holiday from our holiday which is why we tended to chill out after completing our homework each afternoon with a beer and tasty food.

Sunset over the mountains

Sunset over the mountains

During our time in S.P I made myself a souvenir. A shop below the school sold locally made, hand woven, traditional fabrics but would also teach you the method in a class where you could design and make your own scarf. First I was able to pick my colours from a selection of hand spun and naturally dyed threads. They were all so unique and beautiful I don’t know how they got them so vividly coloured. After picking the colours (which was the hardest part) I strung them around a table with poles on it to measure out the thread and set them up to be put onto the loom sticks. After this the teacher set up my waist loom, which is the traditional method of creating belts, scarves or small textiles, and demonstrated how to start weaving. They make it look so easy. I struggled through about 12 hours of weaving to complete my scarf. I feel that I did OK, there are a few patches of rookie mistakes but overall its lovely and will be a great keepsake.

Progress on my scarf

Progress on my scarf

Another touristy venture we did was to visit a local chocolate factory. Our first issue was finding it, this required asking many locals as we walked down a dirt street away from the town. Eventually a helpful local man walked us to the door of someone’s house. This was the ‘factory’ and I don’t think we would have found it otherwise because there was no signage. We were ushered into a room that smelt like deliciousness. There were two pots of liquid chocolate in there which were making me drool. The son of the owner ran through the process of how they make the bars from the cacao to the wrapping stages and gave us some tasters… They were all natural with one variety sweetened with local honey and the other with cane sugar, both were amazing. Interestingly (and with a little bit of pride) I noticed that the dairy they were using was New Zealand milk powder. After drinking up the smell for a while we picked out and paid for too many bars of chocolate in different flavours, what fatties we are!

At the chocolate factory. Look at the New Zealand milk!

At the chocolate factory. Look at the New Zealand milk!

I will note that we still have some remaining chocolate almost a month on from then.

On the walk back we bypassed one of the docks. From here we could see a little more of the lake and mountains as well as some partially submerged buildings. Since the towns in the area were built the lake has risen and fallen multiple times and these houses and shops were obviously built at a time where the lake was significantly lower. They give an eerie look of an apocalyptic ghost town, like you would see on a video game, but interesting none the less.

Our final week passed by uneventfully as we drank more beer and rum, tried to finish learning future tense and got creative with our dinners to use up all our food (making some delicious meals I must say).

On our final school day we were able to attend the inauguration of San Pedro’s new soccer (football) field. All the teachers and students piled onto the back of a ute (probably about 20 of us in total) and headed up the hill. The game was between a semi professional team from Guatemala City and a local ‘selection’ team. San Pedro loves it’s football and we were told that there are approximately 48 teams in a town of around 5000 people. Obviously the Guatemalan team won but the locals did themselves proud with four goals scored. This caused cheers of “Mi abuela puede jugar mejor que este” or my grandmother can play better than that, to the opposition goalie. Overall a really fun final school day and a different experience.

The brand new football stadium in S.P

The brand new football stadium in S.P

Us with our teachers; Eduardo and Celeste

Us with our teachers; Eduardo and Celeste

The next day we packed up our bags which had exploded as per usual and chilled out before our early morning departure.

At 8 am on Sunday morning we were sitting on the chicken bus waiting for departure when a familiar face climbed onto the bus. An Australian girl we had met briefly in Oaxaca had finished her two week tour as well as some other solo travel and crossed paths with us again. Friendships happen so much faster while travelling as you want to talk in English or more likely to just have a chat from someone who isn’t your significant other or non romantic travel partner. As we were all headed to the same place we would spend a lot more time with her over the next week.